A Start-Up Shifts Gears to Try to Seize an Opportunity

Published on May 29, 2012  by Adriana Gardella, New York Times Small Business

A previous post introduced Deirdre Lord, an owner of The Megawatt Hour and a new member of the She Owns It business group. Her company offers an online subscription service that helps commercial and industrial clients manage, track and forecast their energy use and expenses. When we met in early May, Ms. Lord was scrambling to take advantage of a significant — and time-sensitive — marketing opportunity.

Days before, Ms. Lord said, the New York Power Authority had announced details of a program that would give businesses access to subsidized hydroelectric power in exchange for a commitment to add a certain number of jobs and plow a certain amount of capital into their businesses. To take advantage of the program, businesses must apply by the end of the month. Many are receiving letters about the program. But Ms. Lord said the letters are opaque and make it difficult to tease out how a given business’s costs could be affected. The Megawatt Hour could help customers determine what they would pay if they were accepted into the N.Y.P.A. program.

“It’s not unlike getting subsidies back for doing solar power,” said Beth Shaw, who owns YogaFit and is another new member of the group.

Ms. Lord agreed, and said, “The key for us is hitting that point in time when a customer has a compelling reason to make a decision about energy, and there’s some market opportunity at the same time.” With thousands of New York State companies considering the issue, Ms. Lord believes this could be The Megawatt Hour’s moment.

“It all has to do with bandwidth and what I can take on,” she said. “I’m basically the entire sales organization right now, except for some commission-based salespeople.”

Ms. Shaw asked whether Ms. Lord planned to call on each prospect personally.

“I’d prefer not to,” she said. Instead, she said she is working to develop marketing materials, and she plans to identify 1,000 or so decision makers, get contact information for them and send them e-mails.

“Do you think people would respond to an unsolicited e-mail?” Ms. Shaw asked.

“I have a pretty good response rate — about 10 percent,” Ms. Lord said. Additionally, she said, she is getting calls from energy consultants who are requesting help because they don’t know what to tell their customers.

To maximize the opportunity, Ms. Lord said, her company has redirected the efforts of its entire staff of five. “Everything else has been put on hold,” she said.

“What would you consider success with this undertaking?” asked Jessica Johnson, who owns Johnson Security Bureau. “How many new customers or how much revenue?”

“One hundred clients would be great,” Ms. Lord said.

With the clock ticking, she has farmed out about 100 potential decision maker names for validation to TaskRabbit, an online service that gets freelance workers to bid on short-term projects. “If you get the right rabbit, they do a great job,” she said.

Susan Parker, who owns Bari Jay, wondered why Ms. Lord had learned of the program so recently.

Ms. Lord replied that, in the past, the program had been more straightforward, with fewer options. “It was just, ‘Here’s what you’re going to pay, here’s how much we’re paying, done,’” she said. When the new program’s details were revealed, The Megawatt Hour saw an opportunity to help businesses clear up the confusion.

“I have to ask myself every minute of every day whether I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing to make the most of this opportunity — what am I missing?” Ms. Lord said.

In future posts, we will see whether The Megawatt Hour is able to capitalize on the N.Y.P.A. program, and we will check in with the other group members.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

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